Chasing Sundays: Dec. 2019
Posted: by The Editor
Chasing Sundays is Eli Enis’ bi-monthly deep-dive into vast the world of shoegaze. From its celestial pop outer-edges to its overwhelmingly heavy inner-core, these are some of the most valuable inclusions to the global shoegaze canon.
The holidays are the most overwhelming time of the year for many people. They can be overstuffed with joy and warm celebration, or an intense reminder of loss, loneliness and fraught family dynamics. For some of us, the holidays are all of those things; a jarring whiplash of pain and pleasure that can discombobulate your emotional reflexes and make your head foggy.
So why not drown your ears in a style of music that mirrors that dynamic? Let the snowstorms of distortion and the esoteric, fire-crackling vocals blanket you in your childhood bed and give the chaos of reality a run for its money. Some of the shoegaze in this edition of Chasing Sundays is bouncy and optimistic, and some of it is slow and utterly dismal. Whatever your situation may be during this time of year, there’s a project in this lot that can offer some form of respite.
I’ve found a lot of great music over the years by clicking on random Reddit suggestions. This one-and-done release by the band Water came courtesy of r/shoegaze and it’s a real nice hunk of melodic, stormy “swooshgaze”, as the band describes it on their Bandcamp. According to their page, the band was only ever a live project and these songs, which were just released in October, stemmed from a series of demo sessions in 2014 and 2015. They’ve obviously been cleaned up quite a bit since, as the mix is well-balanced and the drums sound absolutely enormous. However, given how much the closer ”Big Rip” sounds like 2013-era Balance & Composure, it makes a lot of sense that these songs were conceived in that time period (and in Philly, just an hour South from where B&C formed).
There’s a moment during the bridge of opening track, “Simply Jess”, when the cavernous shoegaze riff abruptly recedes to a muted clean guitar strum, and then the other instruments return to the composition one-by-one. It’s a move so swift you might not even realize Drowsy pulled it, but it’s the reason why the final portion of that track sounds so towering. That’s just the first of a smattering of brilliant moments on the L.A. quartet’s EP from earlier this year. The track that follows, “Lapsing,” features dramatic strings and post-rock swells; “Earth” contains some truly mountainous guitar sweeps; and closer “Hackney Exchange” injects a thumping electronic drum beat into flurries of ambient string noise. Four completely different yet equally breathtaking songs that bend shoegaze’s conventions into a handful of intriguing new forms.
Iris are a Toronto shoegaze band with a couple different singers and a few different styles. Some of their latest record, Slowly, Forever, sounds like classic, Lush-esque melodic shoegaze, some of it sounds like a peppier take on Pity Sex emo-gaze, and some of it splashes dream-pop vocal hooks over more standard alt-rock structures. Then there’s a song like “Sleep” that comes crashing in with monstrous crunch that a mouthwatering bassline pokes its head out of, and a song like “Away” that does the same sort of thing but in a way that’s more Slowdive than DIIV (there’s a pun there but I’m not gonna try). The moody instrumental outros on many of these songs sound a little shoehorned, like they’re seeking a throughline effect that doesn’t quite translate. But overall this is a rewarding hodgepodge of sounds that’d make for a great transitional record for someone who’s shoegaze-curious but not quite ready for the noisy stuff.
This isn’t going to sound like a compliment but I promise that it is: the production on the 2018 debut from Houston’s Sprawwl sounds kinda shitty. The mix is muddy, the drums are flat, and the highs are tinny. But in some sort of inexplicable anomaly, the lo-fi quality actually works to the band’s advantage by creating a very specific, dingy vibe that suits their gloomy blend of shoegaze and slowcore. Another way to describe Sprawwl is to say that they sound like they’re from Philly; the current capital of drab, musty ‘gazey shit. This eight-song project is full of aching drippers that eventually burst into cascades of mucky, overblown distortion. Think Horse Jumper of Love crossed with early Spirit of the Beehive.
Speaking of Philly, Knifeplay are one of the most interesting bands to emerge from the city’s shoegaze scene since the aforementioned SOTB. Their music is similarly psychedelic and through-composed, but even more hauntingly dark. The songs on their 2019 record, Pearlty, are about drug abuse, domestic violence and a family hiring a mercenary to kill their son and bury him in their backyard. There’s a disorienting echo effect on the vocals that make any of these lyrics hard to make out, but the music itself is incredibly spooky in its own right. Slowcore, freaky Alex G-esque indie-rock and witchy art-rock can all be heard in Knifeplay’s sound, but the best tracks on this record are bonafide shoegaze crushers.
Magic Shoppe have been around for almost a decade but their new record, Circles, is the first I’ve heard of them. The Boston quartet play a rip-roaring form of careening psych-rock that’s doused in shoegaze effect pedals. They call themselves “hypnotic reverb rock” and to be honest I don’t think I can describe them any more succinctly than that. A lot of the record is instrumental, the songs sound like they can fill arenas, and their compositions fall somewhere between Swervedriver and Kyuss. It’s the perfect soundtrack for either roaring through the desert in the middle of the night or staring up in awe at the flickering northern lights. It’s fun to hear shoegaze that’s this unabashedly badass.
I wrote in the first edition of Chasing Sundays that shoegaze lyrics are usually indecipherable and often secondary to the music itself. The Hull, UK group bdrmm are an exception to that trope. The second song on their debut, If Not, When? is a pleasantly repetitive, swaying pop tune that contains the lines, “Just woke up from a dream / I slept with your girlfriend / I didn’t feel guilty, until I woke up.” It’s a strikingly savage lyric that almost made me chuckle the first time I heard because it’s so goddamn awkward—and I salute them for it. bdrmm’s style of shoegaze is similarly off-kilter within the broader genre. Their arrangements are minimal, the production is air-tight and their actual songwriting is more indebted to The Smiths than any of their UK shoegaze ancestors. The guitar tones are really the most ‘gazey feature of this band, but by the end of each song there’s a lick or a crescendo that feels definitively foot-focused. This project feels a little underdeveloped but I think this band is onto something unique.
Although my colleagues Bineet Kaur and Steven Lalonde already wrote about this record for The Alternative, I felt it would be a disservice to you readers to not mention that this is my favorite shoegaze album of 2019. Greet Death’s titanic blend of combine harvester space-rock (think Hum and Cloakroom) and semi-truck shoegaze (think True Widow and Nothing) is utterly spectacular. These songs manage to make losing all of your friends and giving into your darkest demons sound fucking epic, as the climaxes on this record are some of the best heavy shoegaze passages I’ve ever heard. But the mightiness of these songs doesn’t come at the expense of melody; all of them are surprisingly memorable, and the way co-vocalists Logan Gaval and Sam Boyhtari work together on these hooks is astonishing. I dare you to put on “You’re Gonna Hate What You’ve Done” and not feel compelled to fist-pump into the void.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis
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